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The Nature Boy

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I grew up watching and enjoying professional wrestling, which was pretty much impossible to avoid if you were an American boy born after 1970. You knew it was fake, and you didn’t care. It was a kind of theatre, a live-action comic book and soap opera rolled into one, played by seemingly indestructible people who might not have been locked in real combat, but they sure did look like they were beating the daylights out of each other.

This is the subject of an incredible documentary on pro wrestling entitled Beyond the Mat, which even if you have no real interest in wrestling, is worth a watch. (You can get it through Netflix or you can start watching it here.) The upshot of the documentary is that pro wrestling is largely populated by people who aren’t always that bright, have a very high pain threshold and either an appetite for self-destruction, or the kind of obliviousness that doesn’t recognize when one is in serious trouble. A wrestler who was not featured in Beyond the Mat, but probably should have been, was “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, aka Richard Fliehr.

An article published back in August by Shane Ryan on Grantland about Fliehr’s neverending legal and financial problems provides for some fairly compelling, if dark, reading. It is with no small amount of irony that Flair attended the 2008 premiere of Mickey Rourke’s “The Wrestler,” a grim chronicle of one man’s inability to pin his own demons, since the fictional story of that movie could have just as easily been the life of any other major pro wrestler, especially Fliehr.

While a lot of wrestlers succumb to a variety of weaknesses, including drugs, liquor, women and an addiction to fame, financial mismanagement is also a common foil. It certainly has been for Fliehr, whose profligate spending and mountainous debts boggle the mind. What makes his story particularly interesting to me, however, is how a financial advisor by the name of Scott Storick factored into things. As soon as I read the name, it seemed familiar to me. Indeed, it was, as I had read it in a news release earlier this year, when a MetLife rep by the same name was inducted into the MetLife Hall of Fame.

There are two very different Scott Storicks in the public eye. One has had quite a successful career. He is a Million Dollar Round Table lifetime member, and in addition to being inducted into the MetLife Hall of Fame, has earned a place for himself numerous times on both the MetLife Chairman’s Council and Presidents Conference. This does not look like the profile of a huckster.

The other, as described in Ryan’s article, fleeced Ric Fliehr mercilessly by selling him a procession of unsuitable financial products and churning life policies on him. So, which is it?

I called Scott Storick’s office to ask if he was the same one mentioned in the article, and if he cared to refute anything. They verified that yes, this was the same Scott Storick, but he could not discuss Ric Fliehr because of their legal history. I did learn that the Grantland article overlooked the fact that Flieher himself was an agent at the time he was Storick’s client, and that he and Storick were close friends, making a complicated situation even more so. “It would have been nice if that article had mentioned that,” I was told. Indeed. This underscores the fundamental reputational challenge to the industry, doesn’t it? With a single article and a casual web search, anybody could link two names and draw a spurious conclusion, even if a mere phone call can shed some very important light on what could very well be a one-sided story.

Harsh criticism is an occupational hazard for financial advisors, though, especially those that deal with annuities and life insurance. It is one thing to take advice from a pure investment advisor, where there is an inherent understanding by most that when you invest your money, you take some chance with it. The investment options through the life insurance channel feel a bit different. Life insurance is meant to cover us from mortal catastrophe and provide certainty to our lives…there is a feel-good component to it (at least to those with sense enough to actually buy life insurance). And unlike in other countries where life insurance is seen as a primary savings device, in this country, a lot of people still view it like car insurance for your body. Folks don’t like buying it, but they are deeply appreciative it is there when it is needed. This creates a different expectations for the buyer. 

When you sell somebody an annuity or a different kind of life policy by way of your relationship as their life insurance advisor, there is a degree of trust not present with other kinds of financial transactions. Bankers don’t get it. Pure money marketeers don’t get it, either. But life agents, or financial advisors for whom life is a prominent service offered, do. And herein lies the risk.

Ric Flair

Exploitative advisors and agents have always been a problem for this industry (and any in which the products are essentially sold, rather than bought). But an even bigger problem continues to be the notion of explotative agents and advisors, whose long shadow of perceived sinister intent does more to taint the reputation of an entire class of professional in a manner that is wildly disproportionate to the actual wrongdoing. That is deeply unfair to the vast majority of agents and advisors who work hard looking out for their clients’ best interests.

Ric Fliehr does not need an unscrupulous financial advisor to ruin him. He is doing a pretty good job of that already. But the agents and advisors of the life industry need the ongoing diligence of the entire business to create a collective reputation so stainless that when the inevitable allegations of misdeeds surface, they can be quickly and accurately dealt with on their merits, rather than on the default assumptions of a cynical and sometimes hostile public. It is not an easy task, but it is one the industry must undertake (and indeed, is undertaking). Hopefully, one day we will see it get there.

In the meantime, I imagine Storick has friends and colleagues willing to put in a good word for him. I’d be most interested in hearing from them. A bad reputation can spread like wildfire in today’s media environment, but there is no reason why a good one cannot spread just as fast, if not faster.